What is hate crime and why should we all be concerned about it? Defining the problem is a first step towards understanding a phenomenon which affects our society as a whole. The International Civil Society Centre invited our Facing Facts Coordinator, Melissa Sonnino, to write a blogpost about the work of Facing Facts! and the topic of hate crime and civil society in general.
Hate crime is commonly defined as a criminal act with a bias motivation, where bias is a type of prejudice against a person, or a group, because of their real or presumed identity. Although probably not morally correct, the “could be you” argument is usually a winning argument when it comes to explaining to people why hate crime is not only for civil society organisations (CSOs), targeted groups an
d police. In fact, to not belong to any of the groups at risk in society doesn’t mean you ca
nnot be a victim of hate crime. The perpetrators’ assumption about someone’s identity is the only decisive factor. Passing by a gay bar with a friend or reading a copy of the Quran at the bus stop could lead a perpetrator to the assumption you are gay or Muslim, even if you are not, and to commit a hate crime motivated by homophobic or anti-Muslim sentiments.
To upscale the analysis of hate crime to a broader level, which goes beyond our private sphere of interests, we must consider the manifestations of hate, including hate crime, as having a big role in shaping the society in which we live. Hate crime has a damaging impact on victims and their communities, much more than other types of crime. One single episode is sufficient to instill fear and insecurity in thousands of people. The lack of State and law enforcement response increases the feeling of isolation and desperation among victims.
Nevertheless, the assumption that hate crime can be fought against only at governmental/institutional level is completely wrong. If we accept the idea that hate crime affects us all, we should also consider the possibility that we all have a role to play to counter it. Now the question is, how?
We can imagine hate crimes at the pinnacle of the pyramid of hate where jokes, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination and violence are the building blocks of the pyramid growing in complexity from the bottom to the top. As one moves up the pyramid, the consequences are more serious and life-threatening. The acceptance of hate’s manifestations at the lower levels of the pyramid leads to their social acceptance, paving the way to the escalation of violence and hatred in society. The pyramid helps to visualise how hate can manifest in society but also where we can contribute to erode – and eventually dismantle – the pyramid of hate’s blocks.
However, it is far from an easy task to go from words to action. We can start by asking ourselves what are the simplest actions we can take by conducting our regular lives? We can all have a role in combating hate crimes but this doesn’t mean we should all have the same role. Offering support to a person who has been the target of a racist joke or insult is equally important as the work of activists and CSOs which systematically seek to fight against hate crime.
Facing Facts! is a civil society initiative that has been building capacities of CSOs on how to monitor hate crime to advocate for victims’ rights and better prevention measures. Many activists and organisations across Europe have attended our training program which has now become an online resource accessible for all. Facing Facts! has taught us how important is to support people who are fighting against hate crime. Tackling hate crime is a shared responsibility; it requires persistent motivation and frequent sources of inspiration.
If hate crime feels like too big an issue for any one person or group of people to abolish, we must start by thinking about where we can more easily have an impact with the resources available. The pyramid of hate is made of people, and only people can reverse its process.
Interested to know more about hate crime and its impact on victims and communities? Join the next Facing Facts! online course on hate crime monitoring and you will learn how to recognise and record hate crimes and how to use data to advocate for improved responses.
Pyramid image source: ADL’s Education Division, A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute